The Nature of Evil

I don’t believe in evil.

In my worldview, there is a force (one could call it “God”) pulling us towards love, compassion, and connection. In each moment each of us has the choice to either follow that pull or move away from it. The choices before us in each moment are dictated by every individual moment that came before. If we—or those around us—make a series of choices against that pull, our next moment may contain choices that seem barely loving at best.

For the vast majority of us, the decisions that came in the moments before do not lead us to walk into a school—or a mall or a movie theater or a political speech—and face the choice of whether to use the firearms we’ve brought with us or not, but even that moment of decision is the product of an infinite number of moments that came before.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday was tragic. It was incomprehensible. It was abhorrent to all feelings of love and human compassion. But was it evil? Is mental illness evil? Is owning a gun evil? Is suicide evil? Is killing another person evil? Is suicide or killing another person evil if it stops more people from dying, or in that moment could it be the most loving choice in the end of a series of very, very unloving choices? If something could be evil in one instance and loving in another, does it serve a purpose to label something either?

It seems to me, to call the murders evil is to dismiss them as something that just happened without hundreds of thousands of prior causes. To call Adam Lanza evil is to distance ourselves from him as a fellow human being and ignore the reality that a whole series of moments led him to that school Friday morning. We’re good, he’s evil, and there’s the division. It’s simple, but it doesn’t seem to explain things for me.

Trouble is, I can’t explain it without “evil,” either.

How do I say, “These are my people,” and mean not only the children who fell or the teachers who protected their classes when they heard the gunshots or the parents who approached the firehouse hoping that their children would be among those walking out, scared but whole? How do I say, “These are my people,” and mean Adam Lanza, too?

I don’t believe in evil. But I don’t know how to explain this.

4 Replies to “The Nature of Evil”

    1. In what way, Melanie? I know what I would highlight were I to make that case, but I was wondering what stood out for you.


  1. We’re all conditioned by genetics and experience; I’m not sure if Lanza can be said to have had a choice. Murder is evil. But are people, even murderers? I think of Angulimala.


    1. Angulimala is a very apt tale, Paul. I hadn’t read it before. Thank you for mentioning it.


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